Professor McGonagall was explaining about the evacuation about to happen, but Astoria couldn’t focus on that. Did anyone know how to warn the students in hiding that they would need to evacuate too? She knew they had a way off the grounds, Ginny had mentioned it, but how would they know they needed to leave?
She followed along, still distracted by worry, as her fellow Slytherins stood up, following Professor Slughorn out of the Hall and up the stairs. Several flights up, they passed a familiar alcove, and before she could think better of it, she slipped out of line and into the shadows. By some miracle, no one seemed to have noticed.
As Professor Flitwick and the youngest Ravenclaws were passing by her alcove, a voice hissed, “Tori?”
Astoria whirled, finding the telltale blur of a disillusionment charm being dismissed, fading into her girlfriend’s face. Astoria nearly crumpled with relief. “Ginny. Did your lot get the memo that we need to evacuate?”
“We know. Everyone evacuating is leaving our way,” Ginny explained, which also explained why Ginny would have appeared in their usual meeting spot at the same unscheduled time that Astoria did.
“Isn’t that through your hiding place?” Astoria asked, just to clarify.
Ginny nodded. “It doesn’t matter to keep it secret now, we have bigger problems than Death Eater teachers.”
Astoria groaned in agreement. Having the Dark Lord outside the school, demanding Potter, and threatening everyone outside definitely counted as a bigger problem. And on that note… “Gin, did you know Potter’s back?”
Ginny smirked. “Yeah. He came in our way.”
Now was really not the time for old insecurities to come swimming back up, but here they were regardless. “Er. Now that Potter is back, are you and he…”
She didn’t have to finish the question. Ginny sighed dramatically, ruining the effect with a fond smile. “Oh Tori, not this again. I told you when we started dating, and I’ll repeat it until you believe me: I like you. Besides, if Harry wanted me to even consider waiting for him, he would have bloody well told me anything about his plans to go into hiding and let me make my case for going with him if I were inclined to, instead of deciding on his own to leave me behind and in the dark.”
Astoria felt herself relaxing at the familiar rant. Of course she didn’t have to worry about Ginny’s devotion to her, Astoria just doubted her own worth too often. She was weak, female, cursed, and her stellar grades didn’t make up for her other failings. Yet, Ginny chose her, and never hesitated to remind her of it.
“Come with us?” Astoria asked, suspecting by the set of Ginny’s shoulders that it was a pointless request. “It’s supposed to be all the underage students evacuating.”
Ginny stiffened for a moment, but she met Astoria’s pleading gaze and deflated with hardly a token protest. “I’ll be seventeen in a month and a half… But I’ll come with you.”
The two of them slipped out of the alcove and into the back of the line, behind the sixth year Hufflepuffs. They made it into the Room, a spacious thing with hammocks hung all around the edges, before Ginny stopped so abruptly Astoria went two whole strides further before her brain caught up and realized Ginny wasn’t beside her. She turned back. “Ginny?”
Ginny was staring at a cluster of other redheads, five men and a woman, two of whom Astoria recognized as Ginny’s older twin brothers.
“My family’s all here,” Ginny breathed, looking torn, and Astoria already knew Ginny wouldn’t be evacuating after all. “Everyone’s here. I can’t… even for you, I can’t leave.”
“I’ll stay with you,” Astoria decided, surprising both herself and Ginny with her determination.
“No,” Ginny corrected reluctantly. “You’ll evacuate with everyone else, and help the prefects keep the younger Slytherins calm and safe. After the past few years, I’m sure they don’t trust people from the other houses very much.” Astoria felt her face falling as Ginny continued. "Besides we both know you should have been prefect and Snape only chose Mulciber because her father's a Death Eater"
She was right, of course. Now that it had been said, Astoria felt obligated to go be an additional trustworthy face for the vulnerable, innocent, younger students from her house. But it was still upsetting how inevitable it was that she would go and Ginny would stay.
But it wasn’t worth the time and additional upset to argue about either conclusion. “Stay safe,” Astoria demanded.
“You too,” Ginny instructed, then pulled Astoria in for a kiss. It was warm and wonderful, as always, and Astoria nearly forgot the circumstances until one of the twins wolf-whistled at them. Astoria pulled back, embarrassed, but Ginny just made a rude gesture over her shoulder without even turning to look at her brother. “Stay safe,” Ginny echoed, so quietly Astoria barely heard.
The hardest thing Astoria had ever done was to walk away down the passage. Behind her, she heard raised voices as Ginny and her mum argued over the inevitability of Ginny staying in the castle. It was becoming clear where Ginny had gotten her stubbornness from.
At the end of the passage, Astoria passed another redhead, this one tall and with glasses. Another Weasley brother? She'd thought the small crowd upstairs hadn't seemed like enough people... She shrugged it off and hurried ahead to find her housemates.
They didn’t see each other again for almost a week, until the mass service commemorating those that died at Hogwarts in the battle. Astoria had just spotted the Weasleys, and was about to pull away from her family to approach them, when Ginny folded herself into Astoria’s arms.
“I’m here. I’m safe,” she murmured into her girlfriend’s hair, returning the hug just as tightly. Ginny’s owls saying she was physically unharmed were nice, but it was nicer to see her in person. “I’m sorry about Fred.”
Ginny sniffled into her shoulder. “At least… no one else will die. It’s over.”
Astoria kept her arm wrapped around Ginny’s waist through the entire service. The worst was over. They would recover together.